Soccer, not a women's sport?

2010-01-22 09:54
Glenda Muzenda-Raftopoulos
The African Cup of Nations is well under way with the continent’s sports fans waiting on bated breath to see who will emerge as the best in African football. This, along with the 2010 FIFA World Cup around the corner, football fever is surely on the rise. Oh, but wait, if you’re a woman just be careful not to get ahead of yourself at these sporting contests - it seems there is just a certain amount of enthusiasm society can accept from a woman...

Recent passion for the game shown by Ana dos Santos, the First Lady of Angola,  during her country’s match against Mali set many tongues wagging – including my friend Rita. Rita agrees with the so-called "etiquette experts", who lashed out against the buoyant expression of enthusiasm portrayed by a woman of such stature.

They say the First Lady disgraced herself by showing too much excitement, jumping up from her seat to cheer her national’s team’s goals.  After four goals, Rita says she lost all respect for Ana do Santos, who lacked etiquette as a woman in her position - the President’s wife.

How damning! So what is wrong with this picture?

Apparently, too much zeal is unacceptable, especially for women holding positions of high authority, such as dos Santos. Commenting in the media, the custodians of “politeness” deemed her behaviour out of order. Evidently, the First Lady needs to be aware of what the etiquette and image coaches refer to as “image stereotypes.” With media and photographers around high level people, one needs to behave accordingly, or so they say.

Mixed messages?
As we all know, men usually shout loudly, throw objects to the opposing team’s supporters,  and yell in the ear of the person sitting next to them. When a goal is scored by their team, some men even jump up and down, yell, and even kiss and hug each in celebration.

In some cases, men are even known to take off their shirts, waving them in the air. I know this because I have seen it on television and even at my first live soccer experience. I, myself was a bit offended that the man sitting next to me removed his shirt when a goal was scored.

But that is fine... I guess it is all part of the game? It seems, however, that “dignified” women should not be doing any of this, whether it's  shirt waving or jumping in celebration - especially if they are considered to be of a certain status.

What in the world is this gender discrimination?
Did the First Lady rip her dress or skirt off and wave it above her head? (If so, accidents happen and I am sure the Angolan government can at least afford another outfit, but no, that did not happen).

I guess some women watching felt let down? But what is this supposedly poor impression she gave? Can't a woman show a bit of excitement, like anyone else, without labels of judgement hurled in her direction?!

We all watched the inauguration of South African President Jacob Zuma when he danced and jumped with Solly Muhloli and his gospel group... Where are these deportment gurus when he dances? No noise is made about the lack of grace there.

And, these expectations of women and girls as pretty, polite and poised are not just limited to the politically famous.  For example, boys can throw stones at girls and girls need not retaliate by returning fire.

Not lady-like
Society dictates that girls must talk sense to the boys or lie low in a foetal position looking vulnerable. At some point one of the boys will hopefully get sense in his head and rescue the girls, keeping the girls’ images clean from any accusations of rowdy behaviour.

I guess women are not supposed to have too much fun. Rita even says it is not lady-like to laugh out loud, especially if people actually get to see your epiglottis.

She adds that people can actually tell the size of your vagina by how wide one opens their mouth when they laugh. This is unreal, and now it makes sense as she often sucks her lips in when she laughs or covers her mouth.

Really, what standards do all the etiquette coaches, Rita included, want for women? I am sure Rita will be furious when she reads this, but it is often fellow women who cruelly undermine other women for the sake of poise and refinement. This truly perpetuates the stereotypes of how women should behave.

Why not let people enjoy the games and dance as they wish, jump up and cheer on a goal of their favourite team? Maybe Rita and the etiquette coaches should laugh out loud every once and a while, it might do them some good.

Glenda Muzenda-Raftopoulos is the Care Work Coordinator working with Gender and Media Southern Africa. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service.


  • Me! - 2010-01-21 08:37

    Solly Muhloli = Solly Moholo

    Your friend really is a piece of work. There is nothing wrong with celebrating at the matches, and woman are allowed to scream and laugh as much as they want. Screaming for our teams, is one of the good places that we can use the loud talent that God gave us.

  • Lady Roya - 2010-01-21 10:29

    I utterly despise the comments being thrown at the First Lady of Angola. I truly believe the Lady was showing her humane side instead of being a frozen mermaid. She did what anyone would do when watching a soccer game - cheer from the heart. All these people, must let their hair down and learn to take a chill pill and enjoy the game.

    Well done Lady Dos Santos!!!!

  • Soccer Alltheway - 2010-01-21 11:07

    Since when has a person in power been denied the right to show off their emotions whether emotions of joy or sadness...after all they were first and foremost people of the earth, thereafter they were persons elected to power. Why were they elected...because people could relate to that makes each and everyone of us one and the same.....first lady, shake your booties, jump, scream, celebrate with the world. There is no creed, colour or anything that seperates us in any sport....isn't that why it's (soccer) known as the beautiful game?

  • Anonymous Academic - 2010-01-21 11:17

    "She adds that people can actually tell the size of your vagina by how wide one opens their mouth when they laugh."

    Oh really?! As a physiology lecturer, I'd very much like to see the scientific research (if any) behind this claim... As would my one colleague, who's focus area is Reproductive Physiology... If anyone can quickly and easily find good scientific evidence and/or publications that would support this, please feel free to share it with everyone...

    However, if we take this from a non-scientific, tongue-in-cheek point of view, perhaps this explains why us men often refer to one another by the vulgar d*** and p*** terms... Especially the loud and rowdy men...

    Well done Madam dos Santos! Yes, there is a time and place for proper etiquette, obviously. But wouldn't it have been more insulting to the nation and the team if she just sat there with a "stiff upper lip" and said something like "Oh jolly good show."? (So very British!) Leave the stiff and boring manners for the politics. Enjoy the passion of the sport! And show you're human, for crying out loud. Ordinary people struggle enough with believing that politicians are actually human, too... :-P

  • Anonymous Academic - 2010-01-21 11:26

    PS. Two things...

    1. Please don't be offended by my referring to d*** and p***. Under no circumstances do I encourage or appreciate the use of these derogatory terms! However, I just wished to point out something in a humorous context (albeit perhaps a bit insensitive in hindsight). Please see my comment in that context before you type a scathing reply...

    2. Whose, not who's... (I'm a perfectionist, so it bothers me that I missed this! ARGH!)

  • Mandi - 2010-01-21 12:10

    ...Soccer is for men,and hooligans....
    What was she doing there for the first place ??

  • V - 2010-01-21 12:16

    See "why Brazil beat Turkey" and you'll understand everything (slightly NSFW):

  • Frank - 2010-01-21 12:21

    At state / formal dinners / parties be formal but really at a soccer match? That's where you go to enjoy yourself and celebrate with the rest of the town folk. I did not see her behaviour but I'm pretty sure she didn't "moon" the opposition or even heckle them, but only cheered for her country. What is wrong with that?

  • Mimi - 2010-01-21 12:27

    I think the first Lady is unfairly judged. Why must women be subjected to defined rules that in turn make their lives difficult. Sometimes we want to let loose, show that we are human just like any other people out there. I would fully understand the fuss if she behaved that way in a state function but this was at the soccer stadium why make a noise about it? I disagree with the Princess Diana's of this world, who put women under such discomfort...sometimes we want to put the crown down and be an ordinary patron of sport.

  • king cpitalist - 2010-01-21 13:08

    With a surname like Dos Santos, we dont really expect too much. You cant be taught manners in growing up in a green grocer....

  • Moto - 2010-01-21 14:02

    I say tell all the critics to go and get a life! Of course old lady Dos Santos can get excited about a soccer game if she wants to. There are few things worse than old, stiff upper-lipped VIP farts taking up space at a soccer match when it could have been given to someone who really wanted to be there. Isn't the First Lady (and the Pres. for that matter) supposed to be the biggest patriots of them all?
    My wife is Latin American and you should see the way she carries on. Laughs loudly, cries easily, shouts even more easily. She gets worked up during sport matches and even talks and gesticulates at the screen when we're watching a movie (this final one still makes me, the conservative SA husband, sink into my seat). Is she any less of a lady to me? No ways. Does she embarrass me? Often. Is she the best in the world? Of course.

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